Chapter 2 –Empty Nest
Laura Snow enjoyed driving. It gave her some much needed time to think. Today she was using the opportunity to her full advantage. The roughly thirty minute drive home to Scottdale from the hospital in the neighboring county where Laura worked was pleasant enough; the foliage on the side of the road was beginning to turn color with the beginnings of fall offering smatterings of burnt orange and vivid yellows along with the waning greens of summer. Fall really was her favorite season and she looked forward to spending some much needed time hiking in the Appalachian National and less time in the emergency room. Lana had held her degree in nursing since 2002 and though tending patients and providing exceptional care was her life’s forte, she made a point to get out of town regularly and out in the wide wilderness.
After making a mental note to purchase a new set of hikers after her night shift tomorrow, Laura’s mind wandered back to the ER. She recapped her hefty list of patients, many of whom were hypochondriac regulars, some of whom were sincerely ill and the three trauma patients she had assisted in attending after a brutal mva at 2:48 that morning. In crisis situations, it was easy for Laura to remove herself from the moment and get down to business; her skill set was well practiced and the physicians she worked alongside had confidence in her to act quickly and precisely. It was only after she had removed her scrubs and ergonomic white nursing shoes that her mind was able to apply emotion. Laura didn’t expect the teenage girl to live to her next shift, she’d suffered a massive hemorrhage and extensive trauma after the oncoming GMC smashed directly into the passenger side panel of her boyfriend’s Toyota Camry, sending it hurtling into the ditch at approximately 60 mph. Her boyfriend had sustained six fractured ribs, a shattered patella, multiple superficial lacerations and was missing his front four teeth after bouncing his face off of the steering wheel, but at the end of her shift he was alert and stable while his girlfriend was unconscious and on life support in intensive care. The driver of the GMC was a regular in the ER, being brought in at least once a week to dry out after binge drinking at the local tavern. Often he would be brought in after being assaulted for making lewd comments to someone’s girlfriend or, rarely, to belligerently demand help dealing with alcohol withdrawal symptoms, after which he would leave, only to return to his bottle of bourbon and shoddy, run-down acreage on the edge of town.
Laura wondered what would happen to it, now that James “Whisky Jim” MacGregor was toe tagged and on ice in the morgue after swan diving through his windshield, but the truth was she didn’t really care. After working in healthcare for almost ten years, she was intensely aware that the system propagated drug users and addicts, that the truly ill were likely to be found quiet on the hard plastic seats in the waiting room alongside those who were unable to deal with their latest cast of the sniffles, and that the innocent were incidentally being picked off at an alarming rate by society’s dredges who refused to die. Laura briefly wondered when she had become such a cynic, but the large Elms which lined the Carpenter’s driveway were coming into view as she made her way up the street and she pulled over at the curb, gathered her purse and cell phone and stepped out of her car to walk up the driveway to visit her old friend.
Laura had met Anna when she was still Anna Sharpe and attending English Lit classes at the University of Baltimore. The two had found each other in an open study group in the campus library and quickly struck up a friendship. Anna was studying to obtain a degree in Postmodern Literature, Laura was beginning her nursing program and the young women got along famously despite their differing career aspirations. For the duration of their programs at the university, they worked at the same Thai restaurant while also living together in residence. Oftentimes they would marvel at the solidity of their friendship and there was no questioning that they had been placed in each other’s lives as a sounding board, a patient ear to listen to life’s troubles at length and an unconditional support system. But the main reason Anna and Laura were inseparable was that the two provided each other with ample comic relief in their daily lives, so much so that when the two were twenty years old, they made the decision to pay tribute to one another with a tattoo gun. They’d left the shop, grinning and pleased with themselves, each flashing their new body decoration with pride. Laura’s tattoo read “Laugh” and Anna’s read “Til it Hurts”, a testament to the countless times the two had found themselves doubled over, weeping and sore after a fit of belly laughter. When Anna moved to Pennsylvania to follow the love of her life, Laura had remained in Baltimore for next eighteen months finishing up her degree when it proved unsatisfactory to maintain their friendship from the two ends of a telephone line. Laura moved to Scottdale and was quickly employed in Everson as a registered nurse much to Anna’s delight. She could use all the help she could get with two teething infants and Jon working full time.
Laura made her way up the gravel driveway, passing by the tire swing she had spent many hours pushing Jon and Anna’s giggling twins on, and walked the steps of the wraparound deck to knock on the heavy wood of the front door. She’d been coming by to visit increasingly often, and with every unanswered rap on the door, began to worry that the depression Anna had been slipping into over the last four weeks had finally reached a boiling point. It was unlike Anna not to open up about what was bothering her, but this time it seemed she was unready to share, so Laura would patiently spend an hour or two drinking tea with Anna, making her laugh, aware that something wasn’t right, but unwilling to force the issue. Now she peered into the window, looking for signs of movement in the house, before trying to doorknob. It turned easily and the door swung open with a small sighing creak.
“Anna? Hey, Anna!”
Laura could smell the coffee that had been put on to brew for Jon’s breakfast and in the kitchen the dishes from a hearty breakfast were stacked by the sink neatly. The element on the stove was cold and there was no music playing in the house which was quite irregular.
“She must have taken the Steph and Trey to school,” she thought to herself as she glanced out the window and decided to run some hot water in the sink basin to take care of the dishes. She was humming to herself, elbow deep in fluffy Dawn suds when she heard a thump from somewhere in the house. A cold shiver ran down her spine and her skin was covered in gooseflesh at once. She dried her hands on the floral printed dishtowel before making her way into the foyer.
She tried to make her voice sound light and untroubled as she walked the hall and called up the staircase, “You all right up there? Come on down, Ann, I thought you’d gone off to drop the kiddos at school!” Laura took two steps up the staircase and cocked her head to listen for any other sounds of movement. She heard nothing and turned slowly to head back to the kitchen for her cell phone to see if Anna’s would ring from somewhere in the house. As she turned, her eyes met a piercing blue stare from the silent figure behind her.
* * *
“Ho-ly-shit, Ann! You nearly scared me half to death! What the heck are you doing sneaking up behind me like that?!” Laura tried to hide the fact that she really wasn’t kidding, she’d nearly jumped out of her skin just then. Her voice faltered a little before she broke out into a slightly delirious laugh of relief.
“Sorry girl, I didn’t mean to scare you. I was just downstairs in the basement grabbing some dinner meat from the freezer,” Anna said grinning mischievously. It was apparent that she had deliberately not acknowledged her friend’s entrance and resolved to give her a good spook from the basement where she had indeed returned with a frozen package of burger. It was miraculous how the two turned into teenage girls all over again when Jon and the twins were out of the house.
“Yeah, sure.” Laura drew out the last word, flashing her best friend a grin before heading back into the kitchen to wash up the last of the dishes. "Some things never change.”
“For goodness sake, don’t do my dishes!” Anna protested lazily, as Laura submerged her hands once more, and with a sigh grabbed the towel to help dry.
“The quicker we finish this, the quicker we can get to our gossip on the patio. Let these air dry and pour us some coffee instead, I’ve had a doozie of a night shift and I’m ready to relax with a hot cup. Deal?”
Anna threw down the towel and grabbed a couple mugs from the cupboard behind her. She diligently poured the coffee and as Laura was draining the sink of water, Anna was putting cookies on a plate to take out to the patio out back. It was specifically situated to catch the best rays on the whole of the wraparound deck and the weather was still beautiful for being mid-September.
Laura met Anna on the comfortable seats of the patio, removed her flip flops and, yawning, brought her knees up to her chest, revealing her freshly painted toenails. She sipped her coffee carefully at first to test the temperature and, when she deemed it satisfactory, took a long gulp.
“I’m sorry, Laur, you must be so tired. When I called you last night I didn’t mean to scare you so badly, I was just having a really down and out day. You didn’t need to rush here right after shift.”
“You seem to forget who your best friend is here, my dear. It’s never too much for me to come by, you know that.” Laura reached out and placed her hand on her friend’s knee, noticing the tears well up in her eyes. “What’s going on?”
Swiping at her eyes with the heel of her palm like an angry child, Anna replied, “Oh it’s just so stupid. I knew after Stephanie and Trey were born that it was the end of my childbearing road and I was ok with it. I had double everything to deal with. Double feeding, double diapers, double late night wakeups. It never really had time to register.”
Laura nodded with an affirming murmur; she’d come by the house on more than one occasion to find Anna still in her pyjamas at eleven o’clock in the morning, hair dishevelled and looking like she hadn’t slept in days.
“Now that they’re eleven and so much more independent, I’ve got a bad case of Empty Nest syndrome,” Anna said with a frown. “I didn’t expect it to hit me this late and this hard.”
“Oh honey, it’s understandable. Sometimes things bug us even though we know we can’t do anyth-,“ Laura’s words of comfort were cut short as a series of harsh knocking at the door caused her to turn her head towards its source. The pair looked at each other quizzically as if to both say, “Now who could that possibly be?”
Anna rose and walked back into the house through the French doors toward the front entrance as the knocking continued with increasing vigor.